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Spacing Babies Online

Natural Family Planning enters the digital age.
by Tim Drake | Source:
CINCINNATI — In 1968, Pope Paul VI’s Humane Vitae (On the Regulation of Human Birth) reiterated the Church’s teaching against artificial contraception.

In 2008, new technologies allow Catholics to follow that teaching — and still space their children — with more ease than ever.

While the science behind natural family planning (NFP) has been on the cutting edge, the technology used for instruction hasn’t always kept pace.

Until now.

Chart stickers and 35mm slides have been replaced with PowerPoint presentations and digital charts. The Cincinnati-based Couple to Couple League (CCL) — one of the leaders in NFP instruction — recently announced the release of its newest training materials in more than 20 years.

Not only do the new materials incorporate Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body, but they also make use of modern technology.

The work revamping the Couple to Couple League’s student materials and teacher training began more than three years ago. The change came about based upon what teachers were noticing in class.

“It used to be that the majority of people coming to class were married and wanted to be in class,” said Ann Gundlach, director of publications with the Couple to Couple League. “About five years ago we began to see a shift. The majority of couples in class are now engaged, and a decent percentage of them are there unwillingly.”

Currently, seven dioceses — Amarillo, Texas, Colorado Springs, Colo., Denver, Fargo, N.D., Laredo, Texas, Phoenix and Richmond, Va., — require engaged couples to go through a full course of NFP instruction prior to marriage. That amounts to approximately 700 couples annually in the Archdiocese of Denver alone.

“Newer couples often lack the catechetical instruction that couples had in the past,” said Andy Alderson, Couple to Couple League’s executive director. “Many couples are required to take the class by their parishes, pastors or dioceses. So with that change in audience we needed to ask whether we were communicating our message in the most compelling way possible.”

The organization’s new approach involves both student and teacher training. They’ve unveiled a new manual and DVD for student instruction. Both incorporate John Paul’s theology of the body throughout. The DVD also features embedded video clips of physicians and priests explaining the medical and theological reasons behind the method.

Teachers say that has given the instruction even greater credibility. Although the new materials are being sent to teachers at the end of December, some teaching couples have already piloted the new materials. One couple that has already begun the new instruction with two couples is Ann and Michael Green of Carmel, Ind.

“The new instruction is up-to-date for today’s fast-paced people who want everything on computer,” said Ann Green. “Adding the theology of the body, doctors and priests as part of the presentation has really resonated with people.”

The Church reiterated the teaching against contraception with the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2005. The question-and-answer Catechism asks (No. 497), “When is it moral to regulate births?” The answer:

“The regulation of births, which is an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood, is objectively morally acceptable when it is pursued by the spouses without external pressure; when it is practiced not out of selfishness but for serious reasons; and with methods that conform to the objective criteria of morality, that is, periodic continence and use of the infertile periods.”

Founders Critical
Any change is not without its critics. Not everyone is pleased with the Couple to Couple League’s new teaching materials.

John and Sheila Kippley, co-founders of the Couple to Couple League, believe that the new materials contain errors and omissions and have asked the organization’s leadership to correct them.

“We think it is unfortunate that the new CCL management has chosen to delete the major charisms that John and I brought to the league: ecological breastfeeding with its “Seven Standards,” the covenant theology of human sexuality, and a form of systematic NFP that offered different rules for different situations,” wrote Sheila Kippley on the couple’s blog (nfpandmore.org). “Another change is the dropping of ecological breastfeeding as a baby spacer.”

The Kippleys say they were “disemployed” by the Couple to Couple League in 2003, and resigned. They have since set up a new organization known as NFP International.

Alderson responded by saying the Couple to Couple League is “thankful for the legacy and foundation that the Kippleys left.

“We have continued to build upon that legacy by incorporating John Paul II’s theology of the body into the morality portion of our classes and by using technology — both in and outside of the classroom — to reach out in new ways to young couples,” said Alderson.

People involved with the Couple to Couple League said that they’ve streamlined their method and broken out postpartum/return of fertility and premenopause into stand-alone classes. The main course now entails three sessions instead of four.

“The former program included everything you would ever want to know about NFP,” said teacher Kim Reisinger. “It was a ‘bible’ in a not easy-to-read format. It was intimidating for students.”

The new student handbook is half the size of the former.

“The Phase 3 rules have been reduced from three down to one. In the old classes, we talked in depth about breastfeeding and premenopause,” explained Gundlach. “That didn’t always go over well with a 25-year-old couple.”

With the new instruction, couples can take supplemental classes on those topics when that time comes.

“In total, we actually offer more instruction, but it’s tailored for the couples that actually need it,” said Alderson.

The Couple to Couple League estimated that approximately 100 teaching couples are not continuing with the new training. Of the 600 active teaching couples, more than 500 have begun the new training, and 120 are ready to begin teaching with the new materials in January. The old course will be discontinued March 1, 2008, meaning that after that date teachers will be using only the new materials.

Overall, the organization has received positive feedback from those in the field.

“CCL were pioneers in the very early days after the promulgation of Humanae Vitae,” said Theresa Notare, assistant director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning. “They have worked hard on updating and integrating John Paul II’s theology of the body into the NFP curriculum.”

“It is with great joy that I support this new initiative of the CCL,” said Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz. “They are a reminder that in each generation the Holy Spirit distributes graces among the faithful to enable them to carry out the work of the Church.”

Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Source: National Catholic Register - January 6-12, 2008 Issue

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